“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
— Ephesians 5:31-32
Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas),
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.
Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?
But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. The vows are for the “for worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.
The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.
See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.
When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.
Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time. This is unfixable.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.
And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.
I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.
God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.
Be still our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.
And because his gospel is true, you can never, ever, ever give up.
“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezekiel 16:62-63